Senedd member who behaved inappropriately on night out banned for six weeks

A Senedd member who was found to have inappropriately touched two women on a night out has been banned for 42 days.

Rhys ab Owen, elected as MS for South Wales Central in 2021, was visibly upset as he confessed to "letting down" his Senedd colleagues, who unanimously agreed to exclude him from the institution.

His suspension, which does not include recesses, came after a lengthy investigation and has resulted in the longest sanction ever given to a Senedd member.

Speaking at a plenary session on Wednesday, Mr ab Owen said: "I had too much to drink that night, and I behaved badly. I accept responsibility for my behaviour and the consequences for that behaviour.

"I therefore also accept the punishment given to me, even if I might have reservations about how it was reached."

His suspension came after a lengthy investigation.

Plaid Cymru suspended Mr ab Owen over allegations he breached the Senedd code of conduct, and his party membership is currently under suspension pending review.

A report by the Senedd's standards committee, which included 67 pages, was released on Wednesday, 6 March.

The incident occurred during the summer of 2021, with Mr ab Owen saying: "My behaviour on the night in question fell far short of the standard expected of a public official and for that I apologise unreservedly, mainly to those present and affected by my behaviour that evening, nearly three years ago now."

A report from the standards committee last week said Mr ab Owen denied improper conduct, and had denied inappropriately touching the women concerned.

The politician said he raised concerns with the sanctions process, but said he respected the "necessity" of the process and its duration, criticising a "lack of transparency", which was "challenging" for those involved.

"It is only right that we have such a process, but that process needs to improve," he said. "And it must improve - for all of the parties involved.

He admitted "the rules are the rules" and that he must "abide by them". Towards the conclusion of his speech, Mr ab Owen was clearly emotional as he thanked his wife and family for their love and support. He added that he had made "significant personal changes".

He said: "This experience has taught me the importance of compassion and not defining others by their lowest points. Nor must we rush to judgement, whatever my sins might be, they are not what have been described in some corners of the media commentary about the report.

"I would therefore urge all to read the committee report carefully before offering their commentary. Of course, to make mistakes is human and although forgiveness is for others to offer, it is something that must also be earned.

"I have made significant personal changes, aimed at becoming not just a better individual but also a more dedicated representative of my constituents. I have done my level best to keep hard at work on behalf of my constituents as this process has unfolded. I have not let them down in terms of the work I do on their behalf, even though I have let them down in this matter.

"I would like to thank my wife and family for their love and support. I will return it to you now, when you need it most. I would like to thank my fellow members - from all sides - and constituents who have checked in on me during this long process. It is appreciated and much needed."

Vikki Howells, the standards committee chairwoman, said: "The recommendation is the longest exclusion proposed to date by a Senedd standards committee and it reflects the seriousness of the breach of the code of conduct and the committee's determination to uphold that fundamental principle of respect.

"The Senedd must be a safe and inclusive workplace where everybody is treated equally.

"Those working for, and serving members, should not feel that they must tolerate behaviour that is not acceptable."

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